Springwatch: Surge hit wildlife habitats need 'years to recover'

Avocet family Image copyright Amy Lewis
Image caption "We can expect more extreme weather events as the climate changes," said The Wildlife Trusts

Wildlife habitats will need years to recover from an east coast winter storm surge battering, experts have said.

Coastal habitats created for wading birds, including redshank and avocet, were hit as conservation sites were inundated with salt water.

Conservation groups are now "sculpting" areas inland to offer birds and animals new freshwater habitats.

Springwatch presenter Chris Packham said work was needed to "get to grips" with the problem.

At the peak of the flooding in early December, more than 4,500 hectares of designated coastal reserves were under water.

More than 100 seal pups were swept away from colonies on the north Norfolk coast.

Image caption The Springwatch team will broadcast from RSPB Minsmere for three weeks from Monday 26 May

"Habitat managers are facing massive changes in our environment, brought about by climate change basically," said Mr Packham, who is preparing to present Springwatch from Minsmere, in Suffolk, at the end of May.

"We know that sea levels are coming up, we know that more extreme weather events are taking place - and last winter large areas of fantastic habitats for wildlife and sadly some people too, were inundated with salt water.

"This is something we need to get to grips with.

"We need to be shifting our skills inland so when this process unfurls, which it will do in the forthcoming years, we have already sculpted areas inland which are protected from this sort of damage, which the birds can move to."

Paul Wilkinson, The Wildlife Trusts' head of Living Landscape, said: "The winter storm surge was a massive wake-up call, which should trigger new thinking about how we manage and adapt our coastline in the long term - working more with nature than ever before.

"Long-term impacts of freshwater habitats being inundated with saltwater are difficult to predict but water voles, freshwater fish, frogs and wildflowers such as orchids aren't adapted to survive in salty conditions.

"We must re-think our relationship to our dynamic coast and the role that nature can play in protecting communities in the future."

Image copyright Tom Marshall
Image caption Coastal habitats that had been created for wading birds like the redshank were damaged in the surge

The RPSB, working with the Environment Agency and landowners, is balancing areas of coastal protection with the development of inland habitats.

"We need to think about how we manage this coastline and where we can use cost effective soft natural sea defences," said the charity.

One place this has happened is Wallsasea Island, a flat expanse of former marshland that is now arable, sandwiched between the Crouch and Roach estuaries in Essex.

"The result is the creation of hundreds of hectares of wildlife habitats and a long term sustainable sea defence," it said.

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